On Saturday, the Cal rugby team was in unusual territory.
Only two minutes into their match against UCLA at the North Athletic Field in Los Angeles, the Bears found themselves trailing for the first time all season. The Bruins had taken an early lead after Race Noeldner intercepted a pass by Cal’s Andre Coquillard at mid-field and scored a try. The ensuing conversion gave UCLA the 7-0 lead.
But Cal responded right away, as Jake Anderson scored a try in the fifth minute, starting a run of 19 unanswered points for the Bears as Seamus Kelly and Andrew Battaglia followed Anderson’s score with tries of their own.
Despite the run by Cal, the Bruins kept the match tight in the first 40 minutes, as the Bears held on to a 33-17 lead at halftime. But Cal responded with a 42-5 run in the second half, before UCLA scored a late try. After 80 minutes of action, the Bears defeated the Bruins, 75-22.
“We were OK today,” Cal coach Jack Clark said. “Every time we give up a couple of tries, we are not going to be satisfied.”
Against UCLA, the Bears (12-0, 2-0 in the PAC Rugby Conference) had seven changes to their starting lineup from last weekend’s 28-18 win over the University of British Columbia at Witter Rugby Field.
The moves gave the coaching staff an opportunity to rest some of the team’s key players and also gave reserves an opportunity to start. Nine different players, three of whom were replacement starters, scored tries for Cal.
“The goal was obviously to win the game and provide the opportunity to play for some guys,” Clark said. “Some of those guys took the opportunity really well.”
One of the replacement starters, sophomore Michael Bush, scored a try in the 52nd minute.
“It felt good to play a pretty crucial role in the lineouts,” said Bush, of his play individually. “The scrums were definitely a highlight of today. Our front row played amazing.”
Another one of the reserve players Clark commended was sophomore Nicklas Boyer, who was making his first start with the varsity team.
“We stayed calm and stuck to our strong points, and that is good in a game like this,” Boyer said. “We handled it well. I thought we came back strong.”
Although Saturday’s match wasn’t Cal’s cleanest win of the season, the team’s performance against UCLA (6-3, 0-1 in the PAC Rugby Conference) still kept the Bears atop the PAC Rugby Standings.
“For having a mixed team out there, we played some really good moments of rugby,” Clark said.
Despite the outcome, UCLA’s head coach Scott Stewart was happy with how his team matched up with the Bears.
“I thought it was a pretty even game in the first half, and the second half we kind of ran out of gas,” Stewart said. “The guys did show some toughness and resolve in hanging in there, and we scored four tries, which doesn’t happen much against Cal.”
The match was the second conference win on the season for the Bears, who defeated Arizona State 104-0 earlier this month at home.
Stephen Hobbs covers rugby. Contact him at [email protected]